Yesterday I was thinking about Kickstarter and how happy I am with some of the stuff that’s come in the mail this year, and I realized I should revisit a post I made on Google+ back in January — one that prompted some great discussion — and see if it still applied. It does, so I’m reprising it here on Yore.
I’ve been backing stuff on Kickstarter since 2011, and over the past five years my engagement with the site — and the “culture” of Kickstarting stuff, particularly tabletop RPGs — has changed. I’ve backed 82 projects as of this writing, mainly tabletop RPGs but also a couple of movies, some comics, several board games, and a few one-offs in other areas
These are my personal guidelines (not rules!) — a sort of informal sniff test that helps me decide whether to back a project. Some are weird, some may not apply to anyone else, and some I consider best practices.
No board/card games
I’ve kept just one board game I backed on KS, Swords & Strongholds — and I haven’t played that one yet. I have enough board games, and my track record in this area is terrible.
“First created, zero backed” is one of the biggest canaries in the Kickstarter coal mine, a big ol’ red flag that the project creator has no fucking clue what they’re doing. Granted, most gaming projects I’d consider backing don’t fall into this trap, and most gaming FC0Bs suck in all sorts of other obvious ways. I mind the 0B a lot more than the FC; everyone has to have an FC, after all.
No at-cost fulfillment
I totally get why offering backers an at-cost copy on DTRPG or Lulu, rather than handling fulfillment directly, is great for creators. But if I have to take the risk of giving you my money up front, I expect you to keep that skin in the game. It’s also inconvenient for me to have to essentially preorder, then order again; I’ll just order once, if the project succeeds, at zero risk to my wallet.
If I need a spreadsheet to figure out which reward level to choose, I’ll pass. I don’t feel like investing that much time in what’s essentially a preorder, and it can be a sign of excessive complexity in the project itself, leading to delays and other problems.
No paid autographs
It’s cool if you want to charge for signatures, but paying extra for one has zero appeal for me. I won’t avoid a project for having this option, I’ll just back it at a different level.
There must be a print option
I don’t read PDFs unless I have to, and I don’t back projects without a print book available.
Have your shit mostly done
This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.
Have actual risks and challenges
Don’t be cutesy (“The only risk is if I get hit by lightning!”), don’t boast about how many years you’ve been gaming (which has fuck-all to do with your ability to shepherd a project to completion), don’t say there are no risks. Do mention past projects, realistic hurdles, third party involvement (e.g., printers), and things like impending parenthood. Disclosure is good.
The best stretch goals make the product better for everyone, and reward backers for taking a risk on your thing. Doodads, which generally involve additional parties and workflows and production hassles, can die in a fire. Make the thing better, and have a plan for wild success (i.e., some stretch goals in mind).
Some sort of sample
If I’m on the fence, being able to see part of the thing for free will help me get off the fence. If I don’t know you or your work, I probably won’t back without a pretty robust sample — a chapter, a draft, some excerpts, whatever.
Here are my Kickstarter backing stats by year, including 2016 to date:
Projecting a simple trend (average of 1.2 projects backed/month in 2016 so far) through the end of the year, it looks a bit different:
Those charts look like me mostly eating my own dog food — there’s a board game project on my 2016 list, for example (one with a previous KS and a great track record, and I like the first set) — but it also looks like I’m headed for an uptick in backing stuff this year.
My guidelines have helped me choose KS projects better-suited to me, and that’s upped my confidence in backing things this year. I’ve passed up some fantastic-looking games because they only offered at-cost POD fulfillment, and I’m okay with that; I can always buy them later. I’ve ignored a host of gorgeous board and card games, and I’m okay with that, too.
I also tend to star instead of backing right away. I star, come back when the reminder lands in my inbox, and wind up backing maybe 10% of projects I’ve starred at that point.
There’s so much out there on KS now, especially in the RPG world, that I don’t even visit the site to browse anymore. Instead, I let my G+ stream be my filter, and generally only check out stuff I see other folks mention. That keeps the volume fairly manageable, and so far it seems to work.
 Guidelines, not rules!